The Montana Christian Athletic Association (MCAA) girls state basketball tournament was almost identical to a year ago.
Two rival Flathead Valley programs, Stillwater Christian and Flathead Valley Home School (FVHS), were embroiled in a close game in the state final.
For the second year in a row, Stillwater Christian capitalized on a late-game comeback to take the state title by the slimmest of margins in a 44-43 victory over FVHS.
“The girls put together a comeback in the second half, and particularly the fourth quarter, that was just remarkable and a testament to their heart and teamwork,” first-year head coach Dan Tintzman said. “Comebacks are always exciting and thrilling and the crowd and teams are into it. The girls never gave up and fought until the final buzzer.”
Stillwater entered the season with an eye on rebuilding. After three years as an assistant coach, Tintzman took over a program that had just graduated the league MVP and needed to fill some offensive gaps.
Tintzman said the team stepped up immediately, winning the preseason Turkey Shootout tournament and going 10-3 during the first half of the season.
“Then we ran into some adversity,” Tintzman said.
Two starters were sidelined with injury — an ACL tear and a hand ligament injury — and the team had to morph mid-season.
“We brought up underclassmen, and the team started taking on a new chemistry,” Tintzman said. “We played our hardest games through that part of season.”
Stillwater still managed to enter the state tournament as the No. 1 seed from the west and vaulted into the championship game after winning each of its first two tournament games by more than 20 points.
The final was a different story. FVHS ran up the score in the first half, taking a 10-point lead by halftime.
“It was a challenging feeling to figure out what we were going to do the rest of the game,” Tintzman said. “But then they just pulled together.”
Stillwater went 7-7 from the field, 4-6 from the free-throw line and had an 8-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during the fourth quarter, with senior Madison Morken putting up eight of the team’s 21 points in the final quarter.
“Talent may win games, but it takes teamwork to win a championship and I witnessed the team come together when the game was on the line,” Tintzman said. “They definitely earned it this year.”
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